Why Do You Take Pictures of Flowers? (or, How I Learned to Slow Down and See the World)

flowers 2People that follow me on Facebook and Twitter ask me all the time, “Why do you take so many pictures of flowers?” Friends at parties ask me the same question, and once in a while, someone will walk past me as I’m taking a picture, and look at me like I’m a bit weird. I guess that in the broad scheme of things, I don’t strike people as the sort who takes pictures of flowers, and then posts them on Instagram. I find myself explaining why I take these pictures on a regular basis, and I don’t mind sharing it with anyone who wants to listen (or in this case read).

flower 5If I were to pinpoint when it all really started, I would have to say that it began on July 4, 2012. I was walking to a friend’s house for a barbecue, when I just happened to notice an odd-looking flower I’d never seen before. I stopped and studied it, and was amazed at its color and shape, and kind of wished I could take a picture of it. About a block later, I saw the same flower in another yard, and was fascinated by it. A few blocks later, I saw a woman, tending to her flowerbed, and she had the same flower growing. I asked her what it was, and she told me it was a Lucifer flower, also known as a Crocosmia (that’s it, above and to the left). We talked for a few moments, while I wished I could take a picture of this thing, when it dawned on me that I had a camera on Samsung Galaxy media player. I asked her if I could take a picture, telling her I’d never seen a flower like that before. While I was taking the picture, it dawned on me that every flower in the woman’s garden was foreign to me. And that’s when it dawned on me that not once in my life had I ever really stopped and looked at flowers. I told this to the woman, and she looked like she was about to cry.

I continued on to my friend’s house, but as I walked, I stopped and looked at flowers along the way. It sounds like a sad cliché, but it felt like an entire world had opened up to me. A few days later, I went for a walk with the sole purpose of looking at flowers and taking a few pictures. It was perhaps the most relaxing day I’d had in years.

While all of this was going on, one of my oldest friends was nearing the end of his life. Paul West, who was younger than me, had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and he was close to dying. I would visit him regularly at the nursing home, where he was in hospice, and the entire process—walking into the place, visiting with him, watching his slipping away, and then going home—was beyond words. It felt soul crushing.

flower 4One day, I didn’t have the strength to go in and see Paul. I had parked my car, walked to the entrance of the nursing home, but the thought of watching him die, left me emotionally crippled. I stood outside the nursing home, and all of a sudden, I noticed that there were flowers blooming everywhere. As it had been on the Fourth of July, I became mesmerized by all the amazing colors and shapes. Feeling a bit energized by the flowers, I went inside to see Paul. I told him about the flowers, and asked if he’d been outside, but he hadn’t. The heat was oppressive that summer, and his sickness left him in a condition where he couldn’t go outside. So, I went outside and started taking pictures for him.

I was trying to make sense of the world, and come to grips with the reality of Paul’s death, which I knew would be coming soon. I was more bitter and cynical than usual, and in a deep depression, as I questioned the meaning of life and the ugliness that seemed to be everywhere. But there were these beautiful flowers, blooming all around me. I began to realize that even in the midst of death and the ugliness of the moment, there was beauty, if we I just stopped long enough to look at it.

randomnessAnd that’s how I started taking pictures of flowers—I slowed down long enough to see the beauty in the world. Then I started looking around me for more than just beauty. I started looking for the interesting, the weird, and the funny—all of which is everywhere, if we just slow down enough to see the world that surrounds us. So, when you see me posting pictures of flowers, or public art, or graffiti, or a toilet sitting on a loading dock, know that for a brief moment I have stopped worrying about whatever is stressing me out, or being overwhelmed by the negativity of the world, and that I am appreciating what is around me. Don’t worry that I’m going insane, because the truth is the exact opposite.

Check out more of my random photos on Instagram.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, Random Nonsense | Leave a comment

TRUTH REVEALED: The BadAzz MoFo Collection

Best of BAMF cover 9 low resA few days ago I posted about something I’m calling The BadAzz MoFo Collection. In theory, if this were to exist, it would collect material from BadAzz MoFo #4, 5, 6, and 7. These are the only issues that have digital files (or at least some digital files). So, here’s the deal…the collection does exist. I spent the better part of the last week putting it together, which was more difficult than you might imagine. Most of the files for BadAzz MoFo #4 were incomplete, and I had to reassemble over half the issue (to the best of my half-ass ability). I had to replace some images, and do some design adjustments because several fonts were no longer recognized (which threw off the text flow), but other than that, nothing has changed. All the writing exists as it was written. All the typos are still there. All the terrible grammar and punctuation has been kept intact. And the writing, which is questionable at best, remains as profane, politically incorrect, and just plain bad as it was when it was written more than a decade ago. The BadAzz MoFo Collection clocks in at over 180 pages. It features more than 150 film reviews (blaxploitation, Injunsploitation, spaghetti western, and more). And there are some great interviews. The book will be available as a downloadable PDF, as well as a print on demand book. It will be go on sale within the next week or two.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES, Random Nonsense | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The BadAzz MoFo Collection?!?

Best of BAMF cover 9 low resI’m not saying this is a real thing or anything like that. I’m just putting it out there. What if there was a collection of select material from the BadAzz MoFo archives? What if this collection was available as a PDF and/or a print-on-demand book?

Share Button
Posted in NEWS & UPDATES, Random Nonsense | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

That Whole BLAXPLOITATION Thing

wttwt-site-bannerIt’s been a year and a half since my friends Cort Webber and Bobby Roberts broadcast the final episode of their podcast The Cort and Fatboy Show, bringing to an end to my incredible run as their regular Tuesday guest. Cort and Bobby started a new podcast, Welcome to That Whole Thing, and were kind enough to have me on as a guest, talking about a subject near and dear to my heart, blaxploitation. We had a great time, and I think it is a great conversation. Click HERE to listen to the episode.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Anatomy of Story Collaboration (SPOILER ALERT)

sneak 8cThis is one of my favorite pages from my comic The Army of Dr. Moreau #4, even though half of the page was never in the original script. In the initial script, only the second and fourth panels were in the story. Since the beginning, I’ve given Carl Sciacchitano (the artist) as much creative freedom as possible. While doing layouts for this issue, he expanded the sequence from the previous page, and carried part of the action over to the next page. At the same time, he included two new panels, the first and the third, which he felt added a bit more character to the story and resonance to the death of McNally (I told you there were spoilers). He ran all of this by me before fully committing to drawing it, and I agreed with his choices. The problem was the dialog for the first and third panel didn’t exist, because neither had been in the original script. Writing dialog for the first panel was no problem, but the third panel was difficult, especially because the original dialog for the second panel had been meant to end the scene. Honestly, I wrote at least three versions of that third panel, which when you really study it, is a scene in and of itself. All the earliest dialog was garbage—it merely reinforced the action. “Gotta get this grave dug.” “Make sure you get the rest of his ammo.” That sort of stuff. Carl felt there needed to be more to this scene, and he drew it, but I was at a loss for how to give it more character. Then it struck me—I needed to have the characters say what they were thinking.

sneak 8eBy changing the dialog to something connected to what they were thinking, as opposed to what they were doing, I could give more life to Hadley and Beckett. This led me to change the dialog in the second panel, which had already been written, but needed a change of tone and meaning, and helped to shape the dialog of the fourth panel. This issue, and the overall story is much better, thanks to the collaboration with Carl.

The Army of Dr. Moreau is published digitally by Monkeybrain Comics, and is available exclusively through Comixology.

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, NEWS & UPDATES | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Does Anyone REALLY Care About Diversity in Comics? (a.k.a Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothin’)

black comics 1I’m starting to feel like I’m going crazy—as if there is something seriously wrong with me—when the sad truth of the matter is that it is not me at all. It is you. And by “you” I don’t necessarily mean you, the person reading this, but I do mean someone other than myself—the crazy person running around pointing out the truth that You (though not necessarily you) don’t want to face. And the truth that I’m talking about is the simple fact that for all the complaining about the lack of diversity in comics—specifically as it relates to black creators—You don’t really want diversity. Instead, You want to sit around, writing blog posts and articles and leaving comments here and there about how few black creators are working in comics, and how You are so righteously indignant to the plight of struggling black creators who aren’t being given a chance to work for major corporations like Marvel (owned by Disney) and DC (owned by Warner Brothers).

A few days ago, Bleeding Cool ran a piece by someone named Devon Sanders entitled “Blood On The Tracks: Where Are The New Black Comics Writers?” Now, to be honest, I don’t know Devon Sanders, nor do I have an ax to grind against this particular writer, but this heartfelt commentary on the lack of black writers in the comic industry, though well intentioned, is the type of lazy—and dare I say irresponsible—“journalism” that does little to serve black creators. I say this with supreme confidence because, despite what some people would call my hi-yella complexion and talks-like-a-white-guy vocal inflections, I am, in fact, a black person. And I write comics. And I, along with a significant number of other creators are not mentioned in this article.

Sanders starts the article talking about how DC fired all of their two black writers in 2012, leaving no black writers at the home of Superman and Batman. Sanders then goes on to write:

Let that sink in; in one day, 100% of black writers working for a major entertainment corporation were let go. Neither has worked for DC Comics much, if not at all, since.
Marvel, at the time, had none to fire.
Dark Horse, Boom and others didn’t either.

Some of this is true. At the time, between DC and Marvel, there were no black writers working at the two biggest publishers in American comics. Off the top of my head, I don’t know if there were any black writers or artists working for Boom in 2012. But at Dark Horse? Well, let’s see…Sanford Greene was working on Rotten Apple, and if Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander hadn’t started Concrete Park yet, they were just about to. And then there was a little book called Number 13. I know this book well, because I co-wrote it along with the artist, Robert Love, who is also black. Robert recently wrapped another book for Dark Horse called Never Ending, and he was still black when he worked on it, even though no one bothered to mention it. I know, five measly comic creators many of you have never heard of doesn’t amount to much. But you know what? It amounts to more than Devon Sanders’s piece in Bleeding Cool mentions. And it amounts to more than the vast majority of other There’s-No-Diversity-In-Comics rants and raves ever bother to mention.

black comics 2Look, I’m not trying to pick on Devon Sanders. Devon, for all I know, you’re a great human being. But let’s face it, you and a bunch of other well-minded critics have done a half-ass job of addressing the issue of diversity in comics. And if what I’m saying is infuriating or hurtful, put yourself in the shoes of Jimmie Robinson, Rob Guillory, Kevin Grevioux, and Brandon Thomas. Who are they? Well, they are among the black comic creators that are almost never mentioned whenever some critic decides to write about how there are no black creators in the industry. And though I’m not speaking for any of them (though I’m sure some of them would agree with me), I know how it feels to be marginalized as a black comic creator. It feels a bit like being marginalized as a black person, except every time it happens, you’re reading some article filled with righteous indignation that says you don’t exist (which is more often than not written by someone who themselves has probably been marginalized).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—the American comic book industry is plagued by racism. This is not news. Racism plagues every facet of this country. No, Marvel and DC don’t have enough black creators (writers or artists), but neither does the film industry, the television industry, and just about everything else short of most professional sports (and even then, the teams aren’t owned by black people). But when it comes to comics, and let’s be honest, most of You only want to talk about Marvel and DC, there is NEVER (all caps for emphasis) going to be black creators working regularly unless You start supporting creators working at companies like Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Monkeybrain, Lion Forge Comics, or who are self-publishing.

The comic industry works a lot like professional sports teams. Seldom do you see a player drafted to the NBA, NFL, or MLB that hasn’t proven themselves either in high school, college, or a minor league team. Look at some of the biggest names in comics—Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Kelly-Sue DeConnick, Ed Burbaker, Matt Fraction—all of them started out in the indie world or self-publishing, or both. They proved themselves, built a fan base, got support from critics and retailers, and in time, the big publishers decided they were ready to be called up to the “major” leagues.

If any black creators are going to get work from Marvel or DC (especially black writers) it is going to take the committed support of fans, critics, retailers, all working to build them up. But it seems that instead, most of You are more concerned with why there’s no black writers churning out corporate schlock at DC, where there will never be a level of diversity or creative freedom to make You (or me for that matter) even remotely not pissed off. DC is NEVER (again, all caps for emphasis) going to do right by the Milestone characters. And even if Marvel hired me personally to write and revamp Falcon, I’d never be given the freedom to make the character truly interesting, because Disney wouldn’t allow it.

Instead of wishing that Disney and Warner Brothers would deliver us, the marginalized, from our state of white-washed underrepresentation, it is time for You to start looking elsewhere for your dream fulfillment. Check out a series like Watson & Holmes from New Paradigm. Earlier this month,  Watson & Holmes swept the Glyph Awards at ECBACC, and is now waiting to see how it does at the upcoming Eisner Awards in July. With less than ten issues published so far, Watson & Holmes has featured great work by black creators like Brandon Easton, N Steven Harris, Karl Bollers, and Larry Stroman, and promises to feature the work of more creators like Hannibal Tabu. And instead of saying that there are no black creators, maybe it is time for You to check out the work of all the people I’ve mentioned above, as well as Dawud Anyabwile, Enrique Carrion, Ken Lashley, Grey Williamson, Mshindo Kuumba, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Jamal Igel, Alexander Simmons, Ray-Anthony Height, Spike Trotman, Jennifer Cruté, and all the other creators I’m not listing (my apologies, brothas and sistas).

As a final note, at the end Devon Sanders’s piece on Bleeding Cool, Sanders evokes the name of the late great Dwayne McDuffie, basically saying that there have been very few black writers since McDuffie’s untimely passing. Having been lucky enough to know Dwayne during his life, I think it is safe to say that he would be one of the first people to prattle off all the names of creators I’ve listed, and at least a dozen more. Dwayne knew what I know, which is the same thing many other creators know…there are black people making comics. The problem is that You and so many others aren’t paying attention, which seems to prove a much larger point—no one really cares about diversity in comics.

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, Race Matters, RANTS & RAVES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

BECOMING BLACK – an excerpt

banner 2Here is an excerpt from my collection of essays, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. This the first paragraph from an essay entitled “Racism 2.0.”

After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, racism went away. The election of the first Black President of the United States magically transformed America into something known as “post-racial.” It was truly spectacular to witness, as centuries of racial ideology went away, or reversed itself, or whatever it was that happened when American became post-racial, and this country was transformed into an idyllic nation of equality. Unfortunately, if you blinked, you would have missed this incredible turn of events, and in turn you would not have noticed a split second later, when America ceased being post-racial, and returned to its old racial ideologies with so much fury and speed that it seemed like racism may have gotten a bionic upgrade. Indeed, after America’s brief flirtation with being post-racial, which again, lasted for all of one or two seconds, we all woke up to what I affectionately like to call “Racism 2.0.”

And this is the last paragraph of the same essay.

In the end, as we look at the concept of race in this country—a concept that has sadly spread across the globe—we see that America is a nation that has traded its humanity for personal and economic gain. People of color were robbed of their humanity to justify these gains, while White people traded their humanity to make these gains. This is what happened during slavery, and it continues today wherever people are being oppressed, exploited and, in some cases, killed for the sake of riches. And no matter where any of us lands on the racial spectrum, we all must come to terms with our culpability in this on-going process of weighing human life against the accumulation of wealth. It has left us diseased and broken, and the collective unwillingness to look at what has happened to us brings with it nothing more than the promise of our continued dehumanization.

To read “Racism 2.0″ in its entirety, please check out Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture.

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, Race Matters, Random Nonsense, RANTS & RAVES | Tagged | Leave a comment

Watch This!!! THE DAY THEY RAN OUT OF BULLETS

bulletsposter-2Here’s a short film that I directed, The Day They Ran Out of Bullets. Watch it for free.

Share Button
Posted in Random Nonsense | Tagged | Leave a comment

Without Shame – THE PRIVATE EYES

private eyesHere we have another movie that I am not ashamed to admit that I saw when it in the theater. I have very little memory of The Private Eyes, starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts, other than a scene where they are standing in horse poop. I saw this as a double feature with Oh, Heavenly Dog, starring Chevy Chase and Benji. I don’t remember that film either, although I do recall liking The Private Eyes much more. In fact, I saw The Private Eyes twice.

Share Button
Posted in Without Shame | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

blaxploitation archive – COUNTDOWN AT KUSINI (a.k.a. COOL RED)

cool redWithin the ranks of black films of the 1970s, there are a handful of titles that remain shrouded with an air of mystery. These are the “lost” films of the blaxploitation, of which there are two distinct types. The first type of lost blaxploitation film are those that have never been officially released on home video, but have still managed to find a home on bootleg videos. Films like Melinda and The Legend of Nigger Charley, though never having had any sort of authorized release, can be found on DVD. But then there’s the other type of lost film that is truly lost. These are the ones that have never turned up on video in any way, and in some cases have not been seen since their original release. Perhaps the most famous of these lost films is director Ossie Davis’s Countdown at Kusini (a.k.a. Cool Red), a movie with an interesting history, that has remained largely unseen since its initial release in 1976.

Best known for his role as Barney Collier on the television series Mission: Impossible, Greg Morris stars as Red Salter, an American jazz musician working in Nigeria. Red is trying to make time with Leah Matanzima (Ruby Dee), who is working with a group of rebels trying to liberate the fictional nation of Fahari. Leah recruits Red to help smuggle Ernest Motapo (Ossie Davis), the leader of the revolutionary army, out of Nigeria and into Fahari. Motapo is being hunted by mercenary Ben Amed (Tom Aldredge), who has been hired by a powerful corporation that has been oppressing the people of Fahari, and stripping the nation of its natural resources. Though he is reluctant to get too heavily involved, Red soon finds himself fighting along with Motapo and the rebels to liberate their homeland from its colonialist oppressors.

Coming along as the popularity of blaxploitation was crashing and burning, Countdown at Kusini was conceived and produced as something of an alternative to what was often seen as a largely negative genre. To be certain, a great many of the films produced and marketed to black audiences in the 1970s were mired in negativity, as well as hampered by low budgets and inferior production values. Although it sought to put forth a more positive, empowering, and politically provocative message than the other films being churned—especially those being churned out toward the tail end of the cycle—Countdown at Kusini suffers from the same budgetary and production value issues found in some of the more notoriously bad blaxploitation films. But because the film has been barely seen since coming out in 1976, it has become regarded as something of a lost classic—the assumption being that it is probably a decent film (never mind the fact that the film received mostly negative reviews). The sad truth of the matter is that though the backstory of how and why Countdown at Kusini was made (a story I will get into in my upcoming book), the movie itself isn’t very good. It stops short of being truly bad, though it teeters dangerously close to the edge of cliff of being bad.

countdownThe victim of a very limited budget, and a long list of production woes incurred while shooting in Nigeria, Countdown at Kusini starts out promising as politically charged assault on colonialism in Africa. But the film quickly falls apart, weighed down by a flimsy, poorly developed screenplay, with even more poorly developed characters. Best known as an actor, Ossie Davis helped launch blaxploitation as the director of Cotton Comes to Harlem and highly under-rated Gordon’s War. Davis co-wrote, co-produced, and directed Countdown at Kusini, which is probably the main reason people have been willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, it isn’t deserving of any assumptions of greatness, because, quite honestly, there is no greatness to be found. Though it is clear the budget is limited, neither Davis, nor director of photography, Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors, First Blood) seem to be able to give the film any sense of style or energy. The result is a flat, lifeless script that looks equally flat and lifeless, shot primarily in medium shots that betray the film as having been shot as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, quick and efficient aren’t always what a movie needs, especially when the script itself is lacking.

Despite everything working against it, Countdown at Kusini does have moments that work. Most notably, the film manages to pull itself together for a satisfying climax that constitutes the most well crafted portion of the film. The rest of the film, however, is not that well crafted or nearly as compelling. The film earns points for its anti-colonialist message, but other films have handled that subject matter much better, including director Valerio Zurlini’s poorly titled 1968 film Black Jesus (a.k.a. Seated at His Right), starring Woody Strode, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers. Even during its best moments, Countdown at Kusini can’t hold its own against other like-minded films.

NOTE: For those wondering how I managed to see Countdown at Kusini, the short version is that I was able to view it through the UCLA Film Archive while researching my upcoming book—Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered, & Shafted. I will go more in depth into the history of the film itself in the book.
Share Button
Posted in BLAXPLOITATION Archive | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment